The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 19 – The Curious Case of the Countless Clues

Anthony Bate

If you had been watching The Avengers every week in 1969, you’d have seen Tara King effectively neutralised – warming the bench – in the two previous episodes, Killer and The Morning After. And at first The Curious Case of the Countless Clues looks like third time unlucky for Linda Thorson.

Tara has a broken tibia, it turns out, and is laid up at her apartment, forcing Steed to go it alone when a government minister is implicated in the murder of a man we’ve already seen dispatched in bizarre fashion, by a pair of “detectives” who appeared to have “found” the evidence of the man’s death before any crime has even been committed – lots of it.

The detectives are played by Anthony Bate and Kenneth Cope and after they have killed their first victim, who falls neatly into an outline already neatly chalked out on the floor, Steed is sent to investigate by a man in deerstalker, tweeds, the full Sherlock Holmes, with the great Peter Jones playing sleuthmaster Sir Arthur Doyle (ho ho).

The clues at the scene of the crime, meanwhile, all point to one obvious suspect. But since that man has an absolutely watertight alibi…

This being a story by Philip Levene, it’s a criminal racket behind it all, the two men essentially acting as fancy extortionists using “evidence” of an upcoming murder to put pressure on a future suspect. If the target plays along, an alibi is also furnished. If not, that’s where the plethora of clues come in.

 

Tara King stuck at home
A bit of Rear Window for Tara King

 

It’s actually a rather neat old-school case, more Cathy Gale than Emma Peel – everyday criminals rather than criminal masterminds being the nub on which the plot turns.

I’ve already mentioned Jones, superbly ridiculous as a man who fancies himself as a latterday denizen of Baker Street. Bate and Cope are interesting too, Bate because he brings such a massive amount of oily menace to the role – he’s one of many reasons why 1979’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy can be rewatched countless times.

Bate is also instrumental in reviving the old Avengers class-based hierarchy of villainy. He is posh and therefore issues the orders, Cope is middle class and therefore facilitates those wishes. And further down the food chain – we later learn – is the man who actually carries the orders out, the oily rag, played here by Tony Selby as a grimy mechanic.

The men’s surnames are Earle (Bate), Stanley (Selby) and Gardner (Cope) – Earle Stanley Gardner being the author of the Perry Mason stories, and The Case of… being the formulaic title Gardner gave to each of his tales.

Tracy Reed is another interesting addition to the cast. Introduced as an old flame of Steed’s her Janice looks at first like being another of the tryouts as a Linda Thorson replacement. But this is one of the Bryce episodes – the second one produced in this final series – and Thorson was Bryce’s girlfriend, so perhaps that’s a theory too far. In any case, after a bit of mild flirting, Janice fades into the background and King, though stuck at home, does start to become more involved in the storyline, to the extent that the episode begins to resemble one of those Barbara Stanwyck thrillers about endangered women. Let’s not forget that part of the Bryce remit was to return the series to the way it was – Steed and his amateur helpers.

Midweight movie director Don Sharp gives it a glossy sheen, even throwing in a couple of visual references to Hitchcock’s Rear Window while Tara languishes at home, and successfully racks up the tension as the focus moves from Steed to King.

A pretty good episode, which only leads to the speculation as to what shape the whole series would have taken if Bryce hadn’t lost the gig to Clemens and Fennell.

 

 

 

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***

The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 5 – The Bird Who Knew Too Much

Diana Rigg and Ron Moody

 

Even being kind The Bird Who Knew Too Much is a fairly crap episode of The Avengers, a half-hearted rewrite of an Alan Pattillo story by Brian Clemens.

 

But it gets off to a quirky enough start – a man on the run is shot and, instead of shedding blood, gives out a little trickle of bird seed. Steed Fancies Pigeons: Peel Gets the Bird is what the irritating subhead card reads before action recommences after the credits with another one of “our” gang – a pigeon keeper (a “fancier” in the terminology) – winding up  backwards in a tank of wet cement. “He was a pretty solid sort of man,” Steed later explains to Peel as the two get their sleuthing into gear. “Still is,” quips Peel back at him. Terrible joke.

 

Bird-themed death number three is the “partner” of the “solid” dead man Frank. Whether it’s a life or business partner we never get to find out because he too is soon dead, but not before he’s pointed the finger of suspicion at one Captain Crusoe, or it might be Caruso, depending on who’s speaking (the imdb says Caruso – “uncredited”).

 

John Steed does some modelling with a blonde woman
John Steed supermodel!

 

Peel heads off to a shop specialising in birds, to meet a man called Twitter (John Wood), a Clemens eccentric with a sidekick (which is as good an indicator of villainy in The Avengers as a black hat used to be in the westerns) played by Anthony Valentine, shockingly youthful if your memory of him is as the louche Raffles in mid-1970s TV.

 

Steed meanwhile is at the studio of a photographer (Kenneth Cope), a vague relation of every David Bailey-like 1960s snapper – chirpy, demotic, not over-burdened by any artistic imperative – where he is soon doing a bit of impromptu modelling, thanks to a mix-up. Mrs Peel gets her turn later.

Mr Caruso is a parrot – and I’m going with Caruso: he sings, like the operatic tenor, though the spelling Crusoe works too, if you’re thinking Robinson Crusoe. This is a plot twist I’d not normally give away but it’s so obviously flagged that you wonder what on earth they were thinking. Caruso is implicated in aerial photography of a clandestine sort. Er… the end.

 

It’s not much of a plot, with no real surprises. But there is joy to be had from the supporting characters. Look at the expression on Diana Rigg’s face every time she has a scene with Ron Moody, playing the owner of Mr Caruso, an eccentric professor who teaches birds to speak – she looks absolutely delighted, as if the two are old friends catching up.

 

Kenneth Cope is bang-on as the swinging photographer, more or less warming up his “deceased” role in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), which would go into production a year down the line. And Anthony Valentine, long streak of piss though he is, does manage to spin a bit more Raffles suaveté into his performance as the episode wears on.

 

Look out for what might be called the Clemens Moment – this is the point when a highly trained and hugely competent, smart and alert operative does something utterly stupid, simply to move the plot along. In this case Emma goes back to the photographer’s to steal the parrot and, hearing a noise in the darkroom, investigates, as if offering herself up for a chloroforming.

 

Roy Rossotti, in his directorial debut in any field, applies lush cinematic touches he must have learned as a second unit director for David Lean on the ravishingly good-looking Dr Zhivago, and it really helps unify an episode whose separate parts – the bird, the photographer – don’t quite gel.

 

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

I am an Amazon affiliate. Clicking on the link earns me a (vanishingly small) commission

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020